Monday, December 30, 2013

The Last Quack

My favorite Duck Dynasty controversy headline is from GQ magazine (the one that triggered it all), “What the Duck?,” forecasting the latest example of media and public relations “expert” miscalculation.

While A&E was being roasted and toasted by lots of commentators and communicators, my guess is that executives at A&E were getting bruises on their chests and on their hands from all the chest bumping and high-fiving going on since the controversy about this show started.

Look, A&E is an alternative channel carrying a variety of what one might characterize as “off-beat” stories and series. This is their product; this is their brand. Besides, “Duck” is 50% of their profits. Since when does moral outrage defeat economic reality in our democracy?

“Duck” achieved the quinfecta of television “buzz” success:
  1. Controversy
  2. Contention
  3. Consternation
  4. Conflict
  5. Confrontation
Clearly A&E over-reacted by suspending Phil Robertson, the head of the family featured in the series. And, using some rather silly PR advice, tried to explain what Phil was doing, what Phil’s rationale was, and all that stuff. Obviously what Phil was doing was being Phil. And those who watch the show, a minimum of 14 million viewers a week, showed just how deep Phil’s feelings and ideas actually flow through American culture.

As of last Friday, Change.org was hosting nearly 30 petition sites with more than 300,000 signatures demanding or asking for the return of Phil Robertson to the show, and just 2,543 asking or demanding his ouster. A&E executives capitulated over the weekend and are probably resting today through New Year’s, letting their bruises heal. But I’m sure they’ll start up again with the new numbers that the next show generates.

Who knows? Maybe with all this enthusiastic negative attention the show’s audience will reach 20 million by New Year’s Day. The Duck gets the last quack after all.



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James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at Amazon.com.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Crisis Guru National Prediction # 1 for 2014

Crisis Guru National Prediction # 1 for 2014:

Conservatives Will Rue the Day They Called it “Obamacare”



I haven’t a clue as to whose idea this originally was, probably another one of Karl Rove’s bad ideas, but as millions and millions of Americans continue to sign up for affordable health care, the legislation will probably go down in history permanently as a monument to President Obama. This, of course, is thanks to the conservative idea to name something badly then pound on it hard enough to kill it. Kind of reminds you of the success of shutting down the government, doesn’t it?

Clearly, just the opposite is true. In the absence of an alternative or other options on the scale of The Affordable Care Act, like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security – which are in the news consistently – expect “Obamacare” to be in the news with enormous frequency long after Mr. Obama turns the While House over to a successor. The label provides President Obama an assured and powerful legacy.

The Democrats missed a bet themselves when, rather than repeating the concept of “Obamacare,” they should have been relentlessly promoting the legislative concept of Affordable Care. Conservatives would have been better served by calling it “Romneycare,” but we all know what happened there.

Obamacare is a perfect example of what I call “verbal vegetables.” These are words and phrases used with great carelessness which the authors or owners repeatedly wind up eating, then reheating and re-eating, probably for decades to come.

Not exactly a Happy Meal for the nation’s conservatives. This is why your mom (even the mothers of conservatives) taught you to mind your P's and Q's. You might have to one day, or daily eat them. And, there’ll be no conservative dessert after a meal of Obamacare.

By James E. Lukaszewski

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James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at Amazon.com.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Target Steps Up with Extreme Customer Sensitivity

All you reporters horrified by Target’s 3-day delay in announcing that its credit card operation had been hacked can settle down now. You spent the whole of last week trying to get Target on the hook for something it was victimized by. Shoppers thumbed their noses at you, and a boat load of PR commentators who piled on for good measure.

Then, this last weekend, journalists and busy trial lawyers were trying to portray the CEO of Target as a perpetrator with his flawed surprise 10% discount announcement. The result? Target stores were flooded by people looking for bargains. Yes, a tiny handful got angry because there were unexpected exclusions (actually announced the day before and posted in stores) and customers didn't get the discount they should never have expected, and weren't entitled to. Naturally, those were the stories that appeared on television clips and quoted in local news coverage.

Here are the facts:

1. Target set the tone of responsibility and extreme customer interaction for events of this nature. I've been through many of these data loss scenarios and Target’s is among the most prompt, the most complete, and the most engaged with their customers of any in my experience.

2. Many local media suffered immediate memory loss regarding Target as an extraordinary victim in this particular case. And I rarely describe corporations as victims; Corporations and their leaders in these scenarios are more likely to be perpetrators.

Instead, the media and a wide variety of public PR commentators spent the weekend working to ding Target for every customer-helping suggestion or idea that was proposed to mitigate customer concerns and anticipate customer fears and questions.

3. Rather than looking at this situation as a whole, the media chose, as they usually do, to examine things incident by incident, circumstance by circumstance and failed to grasp the retailer’s likely overall strategy:
  • First to report the situation to the proper authorities and begin cooperating in the investigation in an attempt to catch those responsible before the crooks knew that Target and the authorities were on to them. 
  • At the same time, to determine the extent of the incursion, and then formulate a series of responses, each of which escalated in their importance and their positive impact on Target customers.
4. Then there was the handful of whiners who have now hired trial lawyers to again burnish the legal profession’s reputation by suing Target, a highly respected now victimized company. Guess you can file a law suit on any subject in this country, even for damages that have yet to happen.

5. The most important facts are these:
  • Everybody lived.
  • All animals survived.
  • The environment remains safe and protected and held harmless by Target and its customers in this circumstance.
  • Target gets to pay the bill for everything.
6. Target did what any sensible, honorable company should:
  • Do things that matter for those real and potential victims of the circumstance. 
  • Make additional announcements and add additional protections, comforts, and calming reassurances for customers. 
  • Surprise customers with acts of generosity (which the media and commentators attempted to portray as a CEO stumble, fumble, and bungle).
  • Prepare to endure the effects of bad news, badly reported because one thing Target knows for sure, the customers will keep coming.
The lesson is, let’s understand these scenarios more completely and, in the future, cover them more intelligently. I was interviewed a number of times about this story. Each time I expressed the view that Target has set an important standard here for the response to this kind of circumstance. I even called it a model response. These views were covered and reported.

One television station wanted to do a stand-up in a Target parking lot, but they couldn’t find a place to park.


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James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at Amazon.com.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What Do You Really Know About Your Boss?

Why Should the Boss Listen to You?

As I have observed for several decades, why advisors fail to get the attention and ear of the bosses and leaders they are counseling, it is readily apparent that the vast majority of these internal advisors or external consultants know very little about bosses as people, as leaders, nor do they know the pattern of behavior of people at the top. I’ve often thought it quite arrogant for a staff person, whatever their discipline, to walk into a senior executive’s office, especially the top executive’s office, and offer advice on any subject and have very little knowledge, understanding or interest in who that person is and what they do. It’s the most frequent reason operating people ignore internal expertise and seek outside advice.

So, here are some questions for you to ponder:
  1. Why did your boss decide to become a leader or CEO?
  2. Who does your boss talk to and rely on? What does your boss believe in?
  3. When things get really bad, who does your boss turn to?
  4. Does your boss still play pinochle with his or her mom?
  5. Do you know how to help keep your boss from being fired?
In my recent book, Why Should the Boss Listen to You: The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor (Jossey-Bass 2008), I talk about the changing nature of the leadership environment and
the enormous new stresses bosses find themselves having to cope with and survive. You should know about these things and be able to talk about them. Here are just a few:
  • The average tenure of a CEO is declining – now estimated at 41 months. That’s barely time to find the bathroom, get something done, put a legacy in place before moving on.
  • The non-operational aspects of leadership are – literally – exploding. Angry workers, activist opposition, increasing regulation and oversight, and smaller mistakes are causing bigger and bigger problems; one or two dedicated opponents can cause enormous damage; and then there’s Sarbanes-Oxley.
  • Being a leader of an organization was once the pinnacle of an executive’s career. It’s now, more often than not, a temporary stop on the way to another career as a leader or in some other high-level capacity.
Can You Help Leaders from Failing or Being Fired?

Much of the work of a Trusted Strategic Advisor is helping bosses succeed by working against five of the most powerful reasons CEOs get fired:
  1. Failure to deliver on what the promised when they got the job.
  2. Excessive optimism. (CEOs are often their own best PR people.)
  3. People problems – Putting the wrong people in the wrong spots at the wrong time.
  4. Distractions – Too many outside activities, too many Board memberships, too many speeches.
  5. Stuck in the mud – The failure to make changes, progress, or something important happen.
How Do You Get to Know Your Boss Thoroughly and Well?

Here are four powerful techniques to begin to better relate to the decision makers you advise:
  1. Study leaders. Read biographies of famous attorneys, business people, military leaders, political leaders. Not only is it fascinating reading, but you’re going to learn how similar these people tend to be.
  2. Look for and understand the patterns of leadership behavior, from how they take information in, especially in adverse circumstances, to knowing the people their legacy relies on, including their parents, especially their mothers.
  3. Start having brief but important conversations with the leaders you advise about themselves, especially about the questions at the beginning of this blog and others that will come to you as you study leaders and leadership.
  4. Here’s a final question to consider: What do leaders study to become better leaders?
The answer is they study other leaders, all the time. Isn’t it time you started?


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James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at Amazon.com.

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